As a child of the 90s, to me Batman has always been defined by the landmark animated series that ran from 92 to 95. While my parents grew up with Adam West’s campy interpretation in the 60s, for me Batman first and always was the caped crusader portrayed in the uncharacteristically mature and faithful animated adaptation, and its various continuations and spin-offs within the DC animated universe. Naturally I ate the Christopher Nolan films up with a spoon, and Batman: Arkham Asylum was essentially the second coming of the Dark Knight for me.
Conversely, I glossed over The Batman animated reboot of the mid-2000s and when Batman: The Brave and the Bold showed up, sporting the same styling and humor as the cornball 60s show, I just rolled my eyes. Why go back to BAM! WHACK! POW! when Paul Dini, Bruce Timm and Christopher Nolan had practically perfected Batman?
Well, it turns out that I may have judged too quickly. If the game is any indication, Batman: The Brave and the Bold is more about poking fun at the Hokey 60s Batman than revering it as the gold standard. I’m not exactly going to go back and watch every episode of the now sadly canceled Brave and the Bold TV series, but I have a much better picture of where the writers were coming from. Incidentally, the show’s throwback camp parody and art direction make for a pretty great retro-style video game.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold video game is essentially an old-school 2D brawler with some platforming, puzzling and light RPG elements thrown in. While you can play it solo with an AI teammate taking over for your partner, like most classic arcade brawlers this game really should be played with a friend. You and a buddy take the roles of Batman and Robin, and in keeping with the theme of the TV show, a few other playable heroes are unlocked later.
The levels are split up into unrelated story arcs unto themselves, intentionally forming a miniature fourth season of “episodes.” While the settings change and there are some creative set-piece moments, the gameplay stays pretty consistent throughout. You’ll face waves of thugs and occasional big enemies and monsters, with a few miniboss battles and a big fight at the end of each episode. Batman and his allies have a decently varied moveset which is distributed evenly between button presses and gestures across both the Wii remote and Nunchuk. While you can survive by just button mashing, learning the various combos and special moves makes the experience flow better and is ultimately more rewarding.
A much larger roster of heroes can be called upon for screen-clearing assist attacks, which can be powered up by shaking the Wii remote. Each assist hero has a different attack and you can choose these allies before a level, so it’s a good idea to experiment and see which ones work best for each episode. If you have the DS version of the game, you can even have a third player connect to the Wii and control Bat-Mite with the DS; he’ll appear on the big screen to drop items and harass enemies with bombs.Of course it wouldn’t be a Batman game without a colorful arsenal of gadgets. Batman and Robin start out with batarangs but can unlock a full utility belt’s worth of superhero toys, including taser bombs, punch-enhancing bat-knuckles and even a laser sword. While some initially just augment your basic attacks, all of the gadgets can be upgraded twice for expanded ability, such as multi-lock-on batarangs that you aim with the Wii pointer. These gadgets count as special attacks and deplete your energy meter, but there are plenty of health and energy pickups to keep you topped off.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold is a solid and competent beat-em-up but a lot of its lasting charm comes from the fact that it emulates the TV show so well. While the environments are a mix of 2D and 3D, all of the characters are sprites. This not only mimics the art style of the show but lets the action stay consistently fluid and allows for a lot of it on screen at once. All of the characters are impeccably animated and the scenery has some great effects as well. Even the menus, which are all set against different areas of the Batcave, have been given extra flash and depth to stay consistent with the flavor of the show.
The writing is spot-on and surprisingly funny, with Batman channeling Adam West’s hyper-idealized, upstanding and moral portrayal of the Dark Knight, while Robin is a more modern and skeptical straight-man. Batman will usually monologue about justice and rehabilitating criminals, with Robin frequently interjecting with snarky or world-weary commentary. The humorous interplay between just the dynamic duo livens up the gameplay considerably, and the various encounters with villains and fellow heroes make things even more entertaining. The writers deserve a lot of credit for seamlessly injecting the show’s charm into the game—something you don’t see too often these days. Most of the voice actors from the show reprise their roles, adding that extra layer of authenticity.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold might seem a little too retro at first glance, but it’s a deceptively robust package that has obviously had a lot of love put into it. It has enough depth to keep a wide range of different players engaged—at once not too difficult for the inexperienced and complex enough that beat-em-up fans will have a good time. Its cooperative nature makes it a great party game, with just enough humor and interactivity to appeal to most players who are only peripherally familiar with Batman. In any case it’s infinitely preferable to the huge swathe of minigame pabulum bogging down the Wii’s library.
Most important of all, however, this game is a must-buy for fans of the series. It’s obviously a labor of love and a tribute to the show, acting as an end-cap and last hurrah for much of the artistic and voice talent that went into the series. It’s a shame that Batman: The Brave and the Bold had to end, but with the Wii game it’s getting a much better send-off than most of animated series see.